Column: Don’t leave Lucic off the list of Bruins that need to improve

Lucic/By S. Bradley

BOSTON — There’s a tendency in Bruins Land to put the onus for turning the Bruins’ offense around this season on the shoulders of the likes of Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder and a few other guys that suffered a drop-off in 2009-10.

Wheeler gets ridiculed because he doesn’t use his size the way Boston fans want, and Ryder is ripped for stealing $4 million from the Bruins. But Milan Lucic? He tends to be let off the hook.

There are many reasons fans lay off Lucic. Some are valid, and some not so much. Obviously his popularity on his basis of using his fists to pulverize opponents, and his hard-hitting play that sometimes even puts opponents through the glass buys him a lot of good will. His friendly demeanor with the media and around the fans always charms the masses.

Unlike many of the rest of the disappointing Bruins players of last winter, Lucic is also able to point to his injury problems as a cause. First he suffered a broken hand and then was felled by a high ankle sprain, which combined to limit him to just 50 regular season games. By the playoffs, he was just hitting his stride with nine points (five goals) in 13 games before the great Philadelphia collapse.

Assuming he’s 100 percent this season, and at this point in training camp we have to project based on a player at full strength, Lucic must take the major step he missed in his development last season and become even more than just a muscle-bound mauler with the ability to occasionally bang home a rebound or tip in a puck. This is the first year of Lucic’s three-year, $4.083 million contract extension, which isn’t a number you pay someone just to bang bodies.

Luckily for the Bruins, Lucic seems to know it’s time to blossom.

“I feel like I have the ability to help contribute to this team a little bit more,” he said after practice at TD Garden today. “I still, in my three years, haven’t been able to hit the 20-goal mark and I feel like that’s a realistic goal for me this year and that’s a personal goal that I should be able to meet. In saying that, I shouldn’t just be thinking that way. If I just start thinking goal, goal, goal and just getting points, that when my play kind of starts to suffer.

“I think if I’m just moving my feet and playing physical, everything else tends to fall into place. I think after playing now, going into my fourth year, what I want to do, is try to be the best player on the ice on a more consistent level. I think that’s a challenge for myself and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing this year.”

Lucic is just 22 now, but in terms of service time he’s a vet. He had to play like it. He might even have to stay away from fisticuffs on a team that very well could still be challenged offensively with Marc Savard out indefinitely and Wheeler, Ryder, Nathan Horton and others still not proven to be what Boston projects them to be in the goal-scoring department. Earning a spot on the power play is almost a must.

Throughout his career, Lucic has displayed an uncanny ability to challenge himself and then meet those challenges. Whether it was getting cut from youth teams and then earning a roster spot with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, or making the Bruins’ squad as a teenager or earning an invite for Team Canada’s Olympic camp, Lucic seems to knock over his goals as often as he barrels over puck-carriers. It’s great to know that he has his goals for this season spelled out and he’s not hedging his bets by keeping the statistics he’s striving for too modest.

Should Lucic continue to accomplish everything he sets out to do, the seemingly unconditional love most have for him will be better deserved. More important, the Bruins will be getting the right amount of bang for their bucks.

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